For many people who drive through the traffic light at Route 82 and Bedford Road in Brookfield, it’s just another light in a seemingly endless string of hurdles in getting from one place to another.
But, for many others, it’s a reminder of the lives of two young women who didn’t live to be inconvenienced by that light.
A traffic accident at that spot 38 years ago, when only stop signs controlled the intersection, not only changed that intersection, but altered the Brookfield community. The accident claimed the lives of Brenda Haun and Kathy Poto, and forever linked the lives of two others who have made it part of their life’s work to prop up each other and bring some sense to the senseless deaths of those two Brookfield High School students.
Tina Wilson-Dunkerley was the third person in the car. Her long road to recovery continues to this day. She tells women that, no matter what road you are on, there are those who are waiting to help you when you break down.
Sharing that message of hope is Brenda’s mother, Patricia Haun.
“It doesn’t matter, each day you can meet someone if you just put yourself forward,” Haun said. “You do not know what everyone carries on any given day. That may be the only thing they need that day, is for you to look at them and smile, or put yourself forward when you are in distress and say, ‘What can I do to help you?’ That’s all they’re looking for.”
Wilson-Dunkerley and Haun were honored along with four others as Women Warriors by the Warrior in HER, a support organization for women with issues of chronic illness and/or mental health.
The Warrior in HER was created by Reganne O’Brien of Brookfield, and came out of another nonprofit that she created, Glamorous Gutless Girls, a support group for women with chronic gastrointestinal issues.
The Warrior in HER held its first gala March 26 at the Avalon at Buhl Park in Sharon, when it honored Wilson-Dunkerley, Haun, Dr. April Torrence, Amiee Mathews, Nicole Perry and Samantha Cooley.
“They’re not only overcoming personal experiences, chronic illnesses, mental health illnesses, all of this stuff – they’re continuing to keep going, but giving back in ways that are just extraordinary,” said Mandy Stingis, Warrior in HER board treasurer.
Haun was honored for founding, with her husband, Ray, the Brenda Rae Haun Memorial Fund, a scholarship for female graduating seniors of Brookfield High School; her support of the Brookfield softball team, for which her daughter played; and her professional accomplishments.
“She has been a positive light to the Brookfield community for many decades,” said Warrior in HER board President Laurie Aley. “She tells people to never give up. She wants everyone to know that life has so much to offer, the more you have to give. She says that, if you work hard, you can overcome anything that happens in your life.”
Wilson-Dunkerley has had to overcome much in her life. After an extended hospital stay following the accident, she found that she had trouble learning new things and understanding directions. She has struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, survivor’s guilt and depression.
“Tina says, if she could go back, she’d switch places with Brenda or Kathy in a second,” Aley said.
But, God chose a different path for her, Wilson-Dunkerley said.
“I’ve always wanted to help women,” Wilson-Dunkerley said. “I just never really had the means. The life I’ve lived, knowing the no-confidence and low self-esteem, I just want to share it with women that you’re not alone. There is help out there. It’s OK to ask for help because that’s what they’re there for. A lot of people, they suffer in silence, and I don’t want them to suffer in silence anymore.”
Wilson-Dunkerley has found a voice through the uplifting posts she puts on Facebook. She keeps in contact with the Hauns, always reaching out on Brenda’s birthday.
“I always say, pray for Brenda Haun’s and Kathy Poto’s families on that day,” she said, referring to the annual anniversary of the accident. “People want to pray for me, but I want to pray for them. I lived. There has to be a purpose for that. I’m hoping this is the purpose.”
The ongoing relationship with Wilson-Dunkerley “means the world to us,” Haun said, “not only that she is healing and has healed, but that we’re an important part, that she saw at our age we still can go forward and that gives her an object to do the same thing.”
O’Brien said the Warrior in HER’s next goal is opening a free women’s clinic with health screenings, counseling, support groups and vaccine clinics. The agency is seeking funding, exploring a partnership with a local healthcare provider, and lining up counselors.
In the meantime, it continues to hold online support groups, and produces podcasts.
“This is great, what Reganne’s doing for women,” Wilson-Dunkerley said. “I think it’s wonderful. I’m so happy to be part of it.”